Teach your elders well: Pope calls youths to elevate the discourse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Aware of the risk of being called
naive or being accused of spouting platitudes, Pope Francis called on young
people to model for adults the paths of mercy and respect, and then demonstrated
what he meant.

“Today we adults — we adults — need you to teach us,
like you are doing now, how to live with diversity, in dialogue, to experience
multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity,” the pope told young
people gathered for a prayer vigil July 30 in Krakow, Poland.

“Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to
build bridges than walls. We need this,” he said.

Many people find it easy to sit on the couch and tweet popular
stereotypes like “All Muslims are terrorists” or “Immigrants
steal our jobs.”

Pope Francis acknowledged that it is a huge task to build
bridges and said he knew many people might not feel up to it at first. But, he
said, Christians have an obligation to make at least an attempt.

Start small, he said. Take the hand of someone next to you.

It is possible that no one will accept that extended hand,
he said, “but in life you must take risks; one who never risks never

At a time when civil discourse seems not only to have
rejected “political correctness,” but also grandma’s “if you
can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” Pope Francis said
Christians are called to watch their tongues. And their texting fingers.

“We are not here to shout against anyone. We are not
about to fight. We do not want to destroy. We do not want to insult
anyone,” he said. “We have no desire to conquer hatred with more
hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror.”

Perhaps more than any event so far in the Year of Mercy, the
World Youth Day celebrations focused on the traditional Catholic lists of the
corporal and spiritual works of mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the
thirsty; clothe the naked; welcome the stranger; assist the sick; visit the
imprisoned; bury the dead; counsel the doubtful; teach the ignorant; admonish
sinners; comfort the sorrowful; forgive offenses; patiently bear with
troublesome people; and pray for the living and the dead.

A year before the Krakow gathering, Pope Francis sent young
people a letter asking them to prepare for World Youth Day by performing one of
the works each month. And, in solemn prayer July 29, the pope and the youths
meditated as the seven corporal works and seven spiritual works were paired
with one of the 14 Stations of the Cross at the Krakow celebration.

“In the face of evil, suffering and sin,” the pope
told them, “the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift
of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of
service. Unless those who call themselves Christians live to serve, their lives
serve no good purpose. By their lives, they deny Jesus Christ.”

The reality of evil, violence and terrorism filled the
newspapers in late July, strongly contrasting with the sight of young Catholics
dancing in the streets of Krakow or a million of them on their knees before the
Blessed Sacrament or thousands standing in line for confession in a park.

In Poland and on his return flight to Rome, Pope Francis did
not ignore the signs of evil. But he made it clear his bet for a better future
was on the hope-filled, energetic, courageous and open tendencies of the young.
And their willingness to get to know those from another country, another race
or another religion.

On the flight back to Rome July 31, a journalist asked the
pope, “Why, when you speak of these violent acts” like the brutal
murder of an elderly priest in France, “you speak of terrorists, but never
of Islam? You never use the word Islam.”

Every religion has members who are violent, Pope Francis said.
“If I spoke of Islamic violence, I would have to speak of Catholic
violence as well. Not all Muslims are violent; not all Catholics are violent.
It’s like fruit salad — there is a bit of everything. There are violent people
in these religions. One thing is true: I believe that in almost every religion
there is a little fundamentalist group.”

The pope told reporters about his long discussion in May
with the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar University, the highly influential
center of Sunni Muslim learning. “They are looking for peace, for
encounter,” the pope said.

“I do not think it is right to identify Islam with
violence,” the pope told reporters. “This is not right and it is not

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Follow Wooden on Twitter @Cindy_Wooden.

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